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Entries in cuu chi (1)

Thursday
Jul192018

The Wild Fox Koan

Hyakujo was Abbot of the Mountain Monastery. On weekday afternoons he would give a short talk in the lecture hall to an assembly of monks and anyone else who wished to listen. For several days Hyakujo noticed an old man sitting quietly at the back of the hall. One day after the lecture the old man stayed behind. Bowing, he approached the front of the hall and asked to speak with Hyakujo.

The old man was summoned to the front. And leaning into Hyakujo's ear he whispered: “I am not really an old man," he said. "I am a fox. In a past world system I was the Abbot of this Mountain Monastery and someone asked me, ‘Is an enlightened person bound by cause and effect?’ I answered ‘No.’ For that answer I was condemned to live in the body of a fox for 500 lifetimes. Can you give me a turning word to release me?”

Hyakujo said: “Ask your question again.” The fox-man said, “Is an enlightened person bound by cause and effect?” Hyakujo replied: “An enlightened person does not ignore cause and effect.” On hearing this, the old man was released from his fox body.

"I am free," he announced, paying homage with a deep bow. "I am no longer a fox. But I have to leave my body in my home on the other side of the mountain. Would you give me a monk's funeral?" Hyakujo agreed and the old man disappeared.

The next day Hyakujo gave an order through the chief monk to prepare for the funeral of a monk. But no one had been sick in the infirmary and so the monks really wondered about this unusual development and what the Master was thinking. After dinner Hyakujo led the monks, 76 of them in a single line, out of the Mountain Monastery and around the mountain. He led them to a cave and with his staff he poked out the corpse of an old fox. And they then performed a ceremony of cremation, fit for a monk.

That evening, with all returned to the Mountain Monastery, Hyakujo gave a talk to the monks and told them this story about the old man, the fox, and the law of causation.

Obaku, on hearing this story, asked Hyakujo: "OK I understand that a long time ago because the former Abbot gave a wrong Zen answer he became a fox for 500 rebirths. But if I was to ask the current Abbot the same question - and we know that he always gives the right answer - what will become of him?"

Hyakujo said: "Come up here. Very close. And I will tell you."

Obaku went near Hyakujo and slapped the teacher's face with this hand, since he knew this was the answer his teacher intended to give him.

Hyakujo clapped his hands and laughed merrily at the discernment. "I'd heard that Persians have red beards," he said, "And now I've met a Persian with a red beard."

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Commentary: I love the Wild Fox Koan. My intuitive take is that the lesson is meant to help us focus on the intentions that underpin our actions. We can, as it were, act our way to right thinking, but we cannot think our way to right action. Everyone is bound by the laws of nature. And while the "enlightened" are not restricted by such laws, they, moreso than others, must be mindful of the source from which their actions arise - and act accordingly. This is well expressed by Cuu Chi, an 11th C Vietnamese monk of the Vo Ngon Thong sect. (We like to think his longform name is Cuu Chi Cuu.) He said: "True and false, merit and sin, are illusory images. So is the law of cause and effect. As long as your activity is based on conceptual discrimination it is not free. The free person sees all because he knows that there is nothing to be seen. He perceives all, not being deceived by concepts. When he looks at things, he sees their true nature. When he perceives things, he penetrates the nature of interbeing. So while living in the world he possesses the secret of the arising and manifestation of phenomena. This is the only way to arrive at awakening ..." So, we are masters of ourselves, even when living in the world of conditioned things. If, as Allan Marett says, realisation of the empty one world ('enlightenment' as it is sometimes called) means "seeing into the insubstantiality of all things and the boundlessness of Buddha nature" then we would wish to avoid being careless about the relative world - the world in which karma operates - as such carelessness invariably releases manifold suffering.

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Photo Credits: Wild Fox ~ Dylan Roberts | Happy Stone ~ David Roberts